Capitol Square Hotel by Rydges enjoys rubbing shoulders with one of Sydney’s historic and iconic theatres. The theatre often hosts major misocal productions and experiencing them in the magnificent surroundings of the Capitol makes it extra special.
The building itself dates back to 1892 when it was the Belmore Markets. In 1916 it was converted to provide Wirth’s Circus with a Hippodrome that included a water tank for performances by seals and polar bears while the stage saw elephants as part of the entertainment. Within a decade the circus became unviable and one can only guess that the animals would have become part of the travelling circuses that moved around the country.
In 1927 the place was classically fitted out to become a Picture Palace. People fell in love with the escapism of the silver screen and the surrounds – the mighty Wurlitzer organ, the newsreels and the Hollywood fantasies but the Great Depression hit and reality saw fantasy change to B-Grade ‘talkie’ movies.
1945 saw the biggest year in Australian cinema history with 151 million admissions – but by 1958, Aussies had been seduced by television and the movie box office takings took a belting.
In 1972, Harry M. Miller put on Jesus Christ Superstar at the Capitol and it had a successful two-year run starring Trevor White, Jon English, Marcia Hines, Reg Livermore and John Paul Young… but time, lack of funds and vandalism took their toll and the Capitol was in ruins by the end of the decade.
The Sydney City Council considered demolition but in 1981 Australia’s last remaining atmospheric theatre was snatched from the jaws of the bulldozer by a Heritage Council conservation order and plans were made to restore the building and create a world-class lyric theatre.
For the first time in its history the theatre underwent a complete and thorough restoration that took two years and cost over $30m to complete. The orchestra pit was expanded with space for 110 musicians. New dressing rooms and technical areas incorporated part of the old tunnels used by the animals in the theatre's former life as a hippodrome.
In July 1995 an acclaimed production of Miss Saigon put the Capitol back on the world stage.
More info at the Capitol’s website here.